Saturday, March 15, 2008

All is Fair in Love, War, and Politics . . . including Murder

by Pat Brown

On that fateful day of March in 44 B.C., Julius Caesar, the Roman "dictator for life," met his stunning demise: assassination by just about every one of his colleagues. Every one, that is, except Mark Antony, his right-hand man. Antony was outside the Senate building involved in a “long enough” conversation. It is said that the conspirators purposely distracted Antony so that he would not take his seat next to Caesar and thereby interfere with the assassination.

I guess it was possible for sixty men to plot against Caesar without Antony getting wind of it. (It is said Caesar heard rumors but because his health was not all that good, he simply didn’t care to fight back – a form of suicide by “closing one’s eyes to danger.”) Perhaps it was true Caesar did not care much for his life at that point--he was fifty-eight--but if Caesar knew something of the plot and ignored the rumblings out of exhaustion or arrogance, then it is hard to believe that Mark Antony was totally in the dark about the conspiracy. It is a stretch to believe Antony would blithely allow himself to be chatted up by Caesar’s guard whilst the leader of the country was being stabbed to death just a few yards away.

Not much has changed in 2000 years. One cannot necessarily take what one sees and hears at face value. As I sat watching Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama over the course of the recent months, I noted how they trade barbs and then compliments and then barbs and then more compliments. I thought how superficial were both the positive and negative comments, that neither carried any definitive level of “truth,” and as soon as one of these candidates wins the Democratic nomination, we will see a new and total “respect” surface between Clinton and Obama as one assumes the role of Presidential candidate and the other is selected as his or her running mate. But just because they become running mates does not mean the one who ends up as Vice President on the Democratic ticket might not wish the presidential candidate to disappear from the picture at some point in time.

Politics attracts egomaniacs who want to win at all costs and, quite often, any appearance of humility or cooperation is merely a requirement of survival rather than any real sense of decency or fairness. In other words, actions speak louder than words. When someone is back stabbed, or as happened on the 15th of March that day in Rome - truly stabbed in the back (and just about every other part of the body), we may not get clarity as to the true motive behind the crime without doing a bit of serious analysis of previous behaviors of those involved, especially when it comes to achieving their desires in life. In analyzing the murder of Julius Caesar, we should ask, “Who truly had the most to gain by his death and whose behavior raises red flags?” The answer is, unquestionably, Mark Antony.

While many might gain something from Caesar’s death, two men had quite a bit more to gain: the very young Octavian, nephew to Caesar, who was to inherit his fortune and his position (but prior to death of Caesar even Octavian had no inkling he was to be his heir), and, Caesar's top general, Mark Antony, who may well have thought he himself would inherit Caesar’s fortune and position. Mark Antony was at that age of now or never, a man just over the age of forty, and if Caesar lived, then Antony was doomed to a subservient role for the rest of his life. Every year that ticked by would increase Octavian’s age, power, and relationship with Caesar while Antony would steadily continue to lose more and more ground as he aged.

So, there Mark Antony stood while Caesar was being stabbed to death, an "innocent man unaware of what was happening inside the Senate building." When the deed was done, Antony gave an impassioned speech on the terrible loss of Rome’s great leader and then he hurried on to have Caesar’s will read.

What a shock it must have been when Antony heard Octavian’s name read and watched as “his” country was effectively handed over to that hardly-of-age upstart! No doubt Octavian knew Mark Antony was not terribly happy over this turn of events, and, if Antony was not nearly so ignorant of the plot to kill Caesar, he would always be a threat to Octavian.

Sure enough, Octavian and Antony eventually had their showdown. Rome was doomed to get its "king"; it just remained to be seen which one would be left standing alone. In the end, it was Octavian.

Will there be an Ides of March (figuratively speaking one would hope) in the next U.S. election? It will be a fascinating year of politics and history may repeat itself in our country in some form or fashion. Rome and Washington DC may not be so far apart in either political thinking or time as we think. Beware the Ides of March, my fellow countrymen, and cast your votes well!


Kathryn Casey said...

Really interesting post, Pat. I've always thought of Antony as the grieving friend.

Leah said...

Well...this isn't how they were teaching it when I was in school, but, it makes perfect sense. One thing I did learn was how politically savvy Cleopatra was. She was very clever and put on this earth way before her time.

Jan said...

Politicians and politics always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I bet Monica Lewinsky agrees with me.

Pat Brown said...

Expediency often rules the day in politics. Interestingly, history often fails to take this into account and prefers to make the interactions either friendlier, more romantic, or more emotional than they actually were in the day. Likely, this is because historians aren't politicians and don't think the way they think; therefore, they misinterpret the motives behind the actions.

Leah said...

I just saw this program/profile on Doscovery ID lastnight. Great job Pat.